GTA: Liberty City Stories
Is cut-price GTA still a cut-above?
With a good eighteen months before GTA IV hits the next-generation of consoles, Rockstar have decided to fill in the lonely wait by directly porting the PSP-based GTA: Liberty City Stories to PS2 at a knock down price. Based on the same three islands as the first three-dimensional GTA title, GTA III, Liberty City Stories takes place three years prior to the original GTA III and tells the story of mobster Toni Cipriani, who many may recognise as the capo/restaurant owner from GTA III. Originally voiced in GTA III by Michael Madsen, the player encounters a younger Cipriani just returned to Liberty City after several years of lying low for a hit he was ordered to do on a ‘made man’. Thus begins the familiarity factor, the hit Tony had to go away for was ordered by none other than Don Salvatore Leone. Returning home Toni has to work his way back up the mafia hierarchy, dealing with the usual assortment of gang-related problems and ‘jobs’ on the way.
It depends on your level of familiarity with the Grand Theft Auto series obviously. If you are a relative virgin to the car-jacking, mob-killing hi-jinks of Rockstar’s award-winner, or even if you’ve just dabbled in one or two of the games then there is plenty on offer with Liberty City Stories. From the mafia-driven storyline to the sandbox gameplay and varied missions, there is a lot to explore. Liberty City Stories is classical old school GTA with carnage and destruction being the aim of the game, adding just enough plot to tie the too-easy missions together. The game is instantly playable, with missions starting off simple, bikes whiz around the once bike-free tarmac (no planes or helicopters though) and pedestrians hustle around like sheep in a slaughterhouse. As the three islands open up, travel becomes more varied and the missions extend in length slightly, giving time and space to wander and experiment. It can be as open and relaxed an experience as the gamer chooses, coming back to the main storyline as and when you feel like it.
However if you’re an aficionado, Liberty City Stories is unfortunately a fairly significant step back from San Andreas. Lacking the size of San Andreas and running with the thought that familiarity breeds contempt, Liberty City Stories will feel overly recognizable – giving a real sense of gaming déjà vu as you speed along ‘that’ street on your way to a mission of a type already accomplished in one of the three previous games. It’s understandably hard for Rockstar to innovate for Liberty City Stories when the previous three games have accomplished so much with so many fresh ideas, that inevitably the format and style would become repetitive. It would have been nice if a character other than a dour, tough guy mobster had been used as the protagonist, if for no other reason than to shake some of the familiarity with the gaming world. As a port any large change would obviously have affected the game in a major way but it does seem as though Rockstar were happy to put out Liberty City Stories, at a cheaper price, ‘as-is’ knowing that it would in all likelihood make the top of the charts anyway (which it did in the UK).
Further problems come in the length and difficulty of the missions. Being a port the missions have been created with the PSP’s brief bursts of play in mind, meaning that many of them are far too short and uninvolved for the home console gamer. Ten hours play on the core missions will see you all but past the end sequence of a weak plot that harkens back to GTA III far more than is healthy. There is no surprise involved in playing the game, which is a real rarity in GTA games, and only little touches of class convince that this game was actually made after GTA III. The graphics are poor, looking like they’ve simply been blown up for the larger screen sizes, there are no surprises or light relief from the monotonous tone of the game and it all feels too short.
Not going to be a contender
If you’re looking for a reversion to the mafia roots of the franchise and the familiar mission structures of previous iterations then Liberty City Stories is for you. If, however, you were hoping for another San Andreas experience then you’re going to be disappointed. There is nothing particularly wrong with Liberty City Stories, we’ve just come to expect more from Rockstar. Overall, value for money and still better than 90% of it’s competitors, but too familiar and surpassed convincingly by San Andreas.
Owen Jones © 2006